Earlier today, US Central Command Gen. Lloyd Austin III seemed to suggest that US SpecOps were fighting alongside YPG in Syria. As we noted when the news hit, if true that won't go over well with Turkey's Erdogan, Washington's brand new coalition partner against ISIS who has made no secret of his distrust for the YPG.
Four hours later, the Pentagon claimed that Austin's words were taken out of context and that in fact, US forces had not (yet) played a combat role. But just in case Washington does finally decide to admit that US boots are indeed on the ground along with Russian boots, it can always simply point to its own miserable operational failure as justification for why the previous arrangement just wasn't going to cut it when it comes to "degrading" militant capabilities. Read on.
As you may recall, earlier this year the Pentagon decided to try its hand at training an “appropriately vetted [group] of Syrian opposition recruits” whose mission would be to “degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL.”
There are two immediately amusing things about the effort: 1) the notion of “appropriate vetting,” and 2) this effectively represented the DoD training a new group of Syrian fighters in an effort to destroy another group of Syrian fighters that were trained by the CIA but who ended up adding “establish medieval caliphate” to a list of operational objectives that was only supposed to include “destabilize and ultimately remove Bashar al-Assad.”
As we reported around three months after the new initiative was launched, things weren’t going particularly well.
As of July, only 54 fighters had been trained and towards the end of the month - on the 30th to be specific - the group suffered its most embarrassing setback to date when its commander and deputy commander were captured by none other than al-Qaeda (who is rapidly becoming a terrorist also-ran) near the Syrian-Turkish border.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out just how ridiculous that turn of events truly was. Effectively, the newest group of US-trained Syrian fighters was on their way to fight ISIS, another group of US-trained Syrian fighters, when their leaders were captured by al-Nusra, an offshoot of al-Qaeda, whose founder and allies received US support during the Soviet-Afghan war.
Let’s just call that “blowback squared” or maybe “blowback cubed.”
Of course that wasn’t the first time al-Nusra had succeeded in disrupting a US effort to train a contingent of Syrian “freedom fighters.” As The New York Times reminded us in July, last year the group “dealt a more serious blow to the CIA program, attacking and dismantling its main groups, the Syrian Revolutionaries Front and Harakat Hazm, and seizing some of their American-supplied, sophisticated antitank missiles.”
If you thought this story couldn’t possibly get any more ridiculous, you’d have been wrong because on Wednesday, Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of the U.S. Central Command (mentioned above) and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Christine Wormuth gave an update on the latest Pentagon effort to train and arm Syrian fighters and conceded that it was highly unlikely the DoD would hit its target of fielding a contingent that numbers more than 5,000 by the end of the year.
What are they basing their pessimistic outlook on, you ask? This (via Foreign Policy):
Only about “four or five” U.S.-trained Syrian rebels remain on the battlefield to take on the Islamic State.
That’s right. “Four or five.”
So the only thing that the DoD’s estimate of the actual number of fighters currently on the ground has in common with the Pentagon’s original goal of recruiting 5,400 by the end of the year, is that both figures have a "4" and a "5" in them.
And how much taxpayer money was spent to train and arm this anti-ISIS “force”, you ask?
Around $41 million.
We'll leave you with following assessment from Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.):
“Let’s not kid ourselves, that’s a joke. This is just a total failure.”